I am in no doubt that the small engineering firms investment scheme is achieving its objectives. By 28 January 1983, 1,393 offers had been made involving assistance of £31 million, of which £8.1 million has been paid out. It is not possible to say, given the other calls on limited funds, whether there will be a new scheme.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the engineering industry today machines and equipment become technologically obsolete long before they are physically redundant? Does he further agree that the scheme has given small firms a chance to remain competitive and up to date? Will he undertake to reintroduce it as soon as he can persuade our right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give him the money to do so?
I noted my hon. Friend's second point. There are no further funds for the scheme. There was a limit for this year, which we increased by 50 per cent. I entirely agree with his first point. The scheme was designed to assist small firms to buy technologically advanced capital equipment. As a result of all our evidence and the surveys that we have carried out, I am sure that the scheme has achieved that. I hope that firms that have been made offers but have not yet placed orders will do so, as it is important for them to become technologically up to date as soon as possible.
Does the Minister agree that one of the problems is a lack of knowledge of Government schemes within industry? Why, when the Government hit on a scheme which apparently rings bells and is immediately taken up, do they not allocate a further tranche of money to it?
I agree that there are often problems with making schemes more widely known to the firms that they are intended to help. We are putting a great deal of effort into improving that. However, that is not the case with this scheme. We marketed it well and received a good response. That is why we increased the funds by 50 per cent.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is astonishing that, when the Department of Industry hits on a scheme that is successful and receives much interest from small firms, it promptly stops it? Does he further agree that that cannot be because of a shortage of money, as the Government had no difficulty in finding £100 million to force the British Steel Corporation to keep open its works at Ravenscraig? Does he agree that the money exists?
There are many other calls on the Department's funds, many of which are of high priority. We increased the amount for the scheme because we recognised its advantages. There remains £22 million for offers that have been made and which, it they are taken up by firms, will have a good impact on the engineering industry and the manufacturing firms that provide the equipment. That sum has still to be used.